Friday, June 28, 2013

Carcassonne, Cathars, and Cassoulet

This week I embarked on a mini-adventure – my first road trip into France.  I was a bit nervous.  The driver I used to be has deserted me.  Gone are the days when I could drive alone for hundreds of miles with no stress.  Although I studied for and obtained my Spanish driver’s license, the truth is that I still don’t know what all the road signs mean, especially the ones posted at the toll booths.  Where can you pay cash?  Where with credit card?  And where can you find an actual person in the booth.  Perhaps as a cost-saving measure, the booths seem to all be automated and if I wrongly ended up in the lane for pass-holders, I would be unable to back up and unable to go forward – somewhat like what happens in some of my bad dreams.

I approached the toll booths slowly, carefully analyzing the icons for their meanings.  Whether I interpreted well or just had good luck, I was able to pull through each toll, poorer, but with no trouble.

I was headed for Carcassonne.  I’ve been there before – several years ago with Manel.  He thought it was a kind of Disneyland and he was right, but in spite of that, I remember liking it, and according to Google Maps, it was only about an hour and a half away!  That’s closer than Barcelona.  How could I not go?

I don’t know how Google calculates, but my drive to Carcassonne took more like two and a half hours.  But never mind.  I got there with no problems except that the tolls were more expensive than I expected.   I should have known.  Expensive tolls are why I don’t drive on the motorways. 

Carcassonne’s Cité, the walled fortress at the top of the hill, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The citadel was restored in the 19th century but not to its original style.  It would be better if it looked now as it did hundreds of years ago, but even if it is a bit phony, it still is impressive.  Carcassonne was a Cathar stronghold in the 12th to 14th centuries.  The Cathars were a Christian dualist movement not favored by the Catholic church.  I don’t know much about it but I did read a novel set in Carcassonne with Cathars as its protagonists that I thought was good fun and a whole lot better than Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.  It’s called Labyrinth, by Kate Moss and you can buy it here!

Besides the challenge of getting there, my other reason for wanting to go to Carcassonne was to eat a bona fide cassoulet, the dish this area is famous for.  I’ve made cassoulet several times from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art, although admittedly, I leave out some of the ingredients and most of the steps so that my version is very simple and not nearly as richly flavored as it should be.  Really, mine is more like pork and beans.  Traditionally, cassoulet was country food, nothing fancy, just leftovers, cooked continuously on the back burner. 

Was the trip worth the time and expense?  Well, I don’t expect to be going back any time soon, but as far as I’m concerned, yes, the cassoulet was worth it.


Inside the walls, you're in the old medieval village

Lunch was at Restaurant Comte Roger

Duck confit, pork, sausage, beans... yum
Bo l nge ie
A beautiful example of my favorite car --
well, one of my favorite cars


  1. Great photos Dvora ... and I approve of going somewhere to try the food specialty!

  2. Parts of the movie "Robin Hood" with Kevin Costner were filmed there. I have heard that there is a wonderful light show / fireworks display every year on July 14 (Bastille Day, or the French National Day). A real must-see destination for anyone in the south of France (or north of Spain) on any day. Love your photographs!

    1. Thanks, Jan. I've heard about the fantastic fireworks for 14th July there too. They are supposedly the biggest and best outside Paris. They also say it is VERY crowded. If I take into consideration how crowded it was on a weekday in June, not quite full blown vacation season, and then think about a big crowd for Bastille Day fireworks, I don't think I would have the courage to go!